When Ivy League Defensive Player of the Year Julia Reinprecht went down midway through the first half the Princeton field hockey team could only think of its last NCAA tournament match – the national championship game.
The night before the title game Reinprecht’s older sister Katie ’13 battled a stomach bug, during warm-ups Teresa Benvenuti went down with an injury and minutes into the match Molly Goodman ’13 suffered an injury herself.
But for the eighth-ranked Tigers they did what they did then and have always done, rallied, picked up their play and found a way win.
A resilient Princeton team earned a 5-4 victory over No. 9 Penn State in the NCAA tournament first round, avenging its regular season loss to the Nittany Lions Saturday in College Park, Md.
The Tigers (14-4) now have a date with No. 1 Maryland in the NCAA second round on Sunday at 2 p.m., another rematch and loss from the regular season.
The first half saw a much more dominant Tiger side, holding a 6-3 shot advantage, but Penn State made it count on its few offensive chances to keep pace where it mattered – the scoreboard.
Princeton pulled the momentum first, striking the 4th minute for a 1-0 lead. Cat Caro had the ball on the left side in traffic drawing out Penn State’s goalkeeper Kylie Licata. With the defense surrounding Caro, she dished a quick pass to an open Allison Evans to knock in her 10th goal of the year.
Before the Tigers were able to add an insurance goal PSU capitalized on its first true offensive chance in the circle, tying the score on a penalty corner at 9:06.
In a battle for control, Princeton worked relentlessly to reestablish its momentum and nearly regained the lead in the 14th minutes off a Caro open shot. She beat the defensive line and sent in a hard shot to the far post that Licata got a last second touch to redirect it.
Despite containing the ball for much of the half inside the PSU side, the Nittany Lions again capitalized on their next chance in the 19th minute to take their only lead, 2-1.
Avoiding going into halftime with a deficit, Maddie Copeland evened the game with her first career postseason goal in the 22nd minute. Evans retrieved the ball near the top of the circle, took a touch and lifted it to Copeland waiting on the left post. In a swift motion the sophomore striker volleyed it past Licata to tie the score, 2-2.
Princeton opened the second period setting an upbeat pace of play and immediately earned a penalty corner. In the 37th minute, Michelle Cesan served the ball to Annabeth Donovan, who made a perfect stop for Amanda Bird to put the Tigers up 4-3.
Not much can be said about the brilliant play in the middle from Cesan and Sydney Kirby, who forced numerous PSU turnovers and constantly frustrated the Nittany Lion attackers.
The Tigers doubled its advantage five minutes later thanks to a Caro hard drive into the circle. Near the middle of the PSU half Copeland found a charging Caro on the right flank. This time in her second one-on-one effort with Licata, it was Caro to rocket in the ball to the top corner and put Princeton up 4-2 at 41:03.
As they had all day, Penn State found a way to squeeze back into the game and make things interesting. With less than 10 to play, the Nittany Lions scored a second goal off a penalty corner to cut Princeton’s lead to 4-3.
But PSU’s brief momentum pull was short lived when a Bird shot deflected off a Nittany Lion defender into the goal to provide a much needed insurance goal in the 62nd minute.
With its postseason hopes on the line, Penn State began to push its team deep into the Tiger circle and scored to make it 5-4 in the 65th minute.
The Nittany Lions nearly forced overtime with less than three minutes to play when a PSU shot got past goalie Anya Gersoff and fortuitously deflected off the post out of the cage.
Gersoff finished with four saves.
Princeton was the dominant side for much of the match, holding a 16-10 shot, 10-8 on goal, and 5-2 penalty corner advantages.
The Tigers are now 4-3 all-time versus Penn State in the NCAA tournament.